NewsPublic AffairsRace & Gender / January 1, 2014

Is The Show Business 'Glass Closet' Collapsing?

NPR
Original article posted on Read on NPR.
Is The Show Business 'Glass Closet' Collapsing?

Some people insist that Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts acknowledging her girlfriend of 10 years in a Facebook post isn't news at all.

Roberts reportedly was open in her personal life about her sexual orientation. And she's survived two high profile cancer struggles with partner Amber Laign at her side; so a holiday message expressing gratitude for lots of things including "my long time girlfriend Amber" seemed appropriate.

When GMA's former weatherman Sam Champion announced his engagement and marriage to partner Rubem Robierb in 2012, ABC News sent out a press release and photo of the happy couple.

And celebrity revelations of same-sex relationships have moved from the covers of bestselling magazines to offhand comments in Facebook posts and lines buried deep in New York Times profiles (nevermind that ABC News and first lady Michelle Obama both sent supportive messages as word spread of Roberts' post, ensuring further coverage).

But at a time when the A&E network essentially had to back down from its effort to punish Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for giving an interview where he compared homosexuality to bestiality and promiscuity — suspending him and then reinstating him without really affecting the show's filming — it's obvious America remains at a crucial tipping point on this issue.

In the same way media always mirrors society, it has thrown up a reflection of this. Our fragmented media culture showcases one area, daytime talk, which has welcomed gay anchors and stars with open arms, while also offering an example of unrepentant homophobia from one of cable TV's most successful names.

It seems similar to the atmosphere of the mid-1960s, when laws upholding racial segregation and barring interracial marriage were struck down, even as opinion polls revealed Americans were hardly settled on these issues.

The 'Glass Closet'
Back in 1968, when the Supreme Court invalidated laws against interracial marriage, a Gallup poll indicated 72 percent of Americans disapproved of such unions. This year, Gallup found 87 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriages — 96 percent among black people — while a different poll from the company found 53 percent of Americans approved of gay marriage.

If anything, perhaps we've reached a point where the show business "glass closet" is collapsing.

That's a term a friend recently used in referring to celebrities who are openly gay in their personal lives but not professionally. Until recently, for example, that seemed to define CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who revealed his sexual orientation publicly in an email to blogger Andrew Sullivan in mid-2012.

Like Roberts, who is on vacation from GMA now, Cooper made the revelation while he was away from the New York media bubble, giving him time to pick and choose how he would talk about his revelation when he returned.

Love Is All Around Us
In a media world where we know so much about our news anchors, withholding who they love seems a too-powerful statement — especially given that so many top names in news and show business have seen little or no public backlash following similar revelations.

Indeed, some critics have asked why ABC News, which reported about Roberts' support network of family and friends during her recent fight against cancer, didn't mention her partner then. Would they have agreed to leave such an important fact out of a feature story about someone outside their anchor team who had cancer?

I hope in the future Roberts takes some time to talk a bit more about her relationship with Laign, so that references to events in their lives become as commonplace as co-anchor George Stephanopoulos' chat about his wife, Alexandra Wentworth.

That might help collapse the glass closet even further, showing the Phil Robertsons of the world just how off base their assumptions can be.

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